Recent gun violence prompts discussion about community policing efforts

Elena Sucharetza, Assistant City Editor

Recent episodes of gun violence in Evanston have spurred conversation about the efficacy of the city’s community policing initiative, particularly among 5th Ward residents.

Evanston Police Department’s Problem Solving Team specializes in facilitating relationships between officers assigned to a ward and its residents, said Francesca Henderson, PST officer of the 3rd and 4th Wards. She said the program was launched in 1995 to establish community between residents and police officers.

“We have been successful in building partnerships between the businesses and citizens of our wards,” Henderson said. “Our department is very transparent too, and that’s always needed to build that trust between a community and its police.”

Henderson said community patrols allow for officers to spend more time on individual calls, a privilege not always afforded to the average officer due to the sheer number of calls police receive. Officers assigned to a specific ward have more time to devote attention to specific issues in a ward that would ordinarily take much longer to resolve, she said.

For Evanston resident and local activist for gun control Carolyn Murray, whose 19-year-old son was shot and killed more than three years ago, however, the program’s efforts should be called into question following a recent bout of shots fired incidents in the city between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 and the killing of resident Benjamin “Bo” Bradford-Mandujano on Jan. 19.

Murray said that although the program has had positive feedback among some residents, the community should be critical of the impact community policing has on reducing crime.

“I really don’t think that (the initiative) is a full effort that will service the community with the increase of gun violence that we’ve been seeing for the past year,” she said. “We shouldn’t see this influx of gun violence and a homicide in January.”

Murray said she believes there is significant work to be done in facilitating meaningful communication between the 5th Ward and its police presence. She cited what she said is a strained relationship between the police department and Evanston’s 5th Ward that needs to be repaired in order for PST’s tenant of community trust to be realized.

However, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she has had community members praise the program’s officers for their attentiveness to ward specific issues. She said PST officers frequently attend ward meetings and events happening throughout the ward.

“Residents feel good about (these officers),” Holmes said. “They know and recognize them, and that’s what community policing is all about.”

Although Murray acknowledged that PST officers attend 5th ward meetings, she said these meetings are the wrong platform for dealing with crime issues throughout the ward as ward meeting agendas are often filled with other ward-specific issues.

She emphasized that residents would be better served with a police outreach office that would be open to citizens to engage officers in dialogue, a facility she said residents have been pushing for for several years.

“If any of the residents want to come in and talk to any of the police, there should be another setting for them to make contact with local officers, and we have been asking for that for at least three years,” Murray said. “When the chief of police comes to our ward meeting, we have a higher attendance for that month because people are so needing to talk and communicate with the police about their concerns.”

Evanston police Chief Richard Eddington said EPD is making concerted efforts to bring an outpost to the 5th Ward but the process takes significantly longer than many people think.

“We are working on several locations in the 5th Ward that might be available for an outpost,” Eddington said. “We are in discussions with Family Focus and other city-owned locations. … This is a process, and it’s something we’ve stepped up our efforts in getting done based on a recent series of shootings.”

He said EPD initiatives, such as the city-wide violence reduction program, are emblematic of the of the department’s proactive stance on reducing crime. He said the program removed 43 guns from the “criminal pipeline” that could have led to further gun violence. In addition to these programs, Eddington said EPD dedicates “substantial” resources to Evanston’s 5th Ward, including two foot patrol officers in addition to PST officers, which no other ward is afforded.

However, Murray said the number of officers does not address the issue of gaps in communication between residents and the police. To establish trust within the ward, officers should be more holistically attentive to resident needs rather than giving targeted responses whenever there is a spike in violence, she said.

“There needs to be ongoing feedback with the community and (PST),” Murray said. “Not just because there was a homicide, and not just because people have concerns about gunshots being fired.”

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